Bo Xilai – understanding the process

In understanding the Bo Xilai case we need to first understand why the case is so important in China. Mr Bo was one of Chinas top ranking members of government, poised to take a seat on the all powerful Politburo Standing Committee. Although not tipped (or destined) for the top post, equivalent to Prime Minister in the UK, he was heading for one of the top positions in government, equivalent in the UK to being made Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary – a position of considerable power, and why his case raises so many questions in China. But Mr Bo’s political career is no over as Xinhua Newsagency, the official newsagency of China, has announced that Bo Xilai is to be expelled from the Communist Party of China (CPC).

The Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee decided at the meeting to expel Bo from the Party in accordance with the Party Constitution and CPC intra-party supervisory disciplinary regulations. The Party sanctions will be endorsed by the 7th plenary meeting of the 17th CPC Central Committee, which will be held ahead of the Party’s 18th National Congress set to convene on Nov. 8.

The Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee has also decided to remove Bo from public office in accordance with the country’s Law on Public Servants and to transfer Bo’s suspected law violations and relevant evidence to judicial organs for handling.

In short Bo Xilai is being expelled from the party, removed from office and allegations investigated by the police. It all seems straight forward enough (although this surface view masks the intense debates that must have happened within the Party before this course of action was finally agreed upon). It ends Mr Bo’s political career, and a long jail sentence is likely if he is found guilty.

But to truly understand what has happened, and to understand why this matter is not as straight forward as it seems we need to understand the process – not simply the outcome. Key to this is understanding that for members of the CPC transgressions of the law are a matter of Party discipline, not legal process. That is to say, had Mr Bo remained a Party member, all the allegations could have been handled internally by the Party.

It is easy to assume that the “transfer [of] Bo’s suspected law violations and relevant evidence to judicial organs for handling” is a natural part of the judicial process, as would be the case in the UK. It is not. There has already been an investigation, the case has been heard (by The Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee) and a judgment has been handed out – expulsion, removal from office and the case being handed over to the police. The Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee could have stopped at expulsion and removal had it so wished.

When dealing with China it is important that we don’t simply transpose our own systems and processes to China. Even if, as in this case, things look very similar on the surface, differences in how things are done, said or approached, can be significant. Highlighting and explaining these differences lie at the heart of our China Training courses.

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